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An interesting topic was brought up today via an innocent little Twitter tweet. Someone posted a list of great volunteer programs in Chiang Mai Thailand.  Another Tweeter thought it was wrong to pay for volunteering. I raised the issue of the cost of accommodation and food – who should bear those costs? I also commented that I thought if a donation to the organization was included in the fee, that was ok. It all depends on the organization, of course and what the program involves.

For small organizations who operate mostly from the ground, with a few volunteers coordinating efforts, it’s impossible for them to pay for food and accommodation, airfare, and such. And in those cases, I don’t mind covering my costs and making a donation in addition to volunteering my time.

I suppose the main point is – does the organization tell you how much of the fee is a direct contribution to their cause?  Do they provide a breakdown of costs? Do you know how your donation is being spent?

I do believe that in light of the many recent disasters in our world, we’ve learned that the NGO/NPO’s are not as forthcoming in providing information as to how your donation is being used.  And as a donors, it is our responsibility to hold the organizations accountable…make them show you where your money is going. We are well within our right for asking and perhaps if more people did, we wouldn’t find so many organizations skirting the issue.

With any other type of travel, you do some research, you ask questions, you ensure that you are getting good value for your money.  It should be no different for voluntourism.  Make sure the organization is sound and willing to outline the program fees. It would also be wise to consider what contribution you are actually making and what is the value of that.  For example, are you digging ditches and building an irrigation system or are you training elephants?  What impact will you have by volunteering your time?  Is building a house for a victim of a natural disaster a bigger contribution than picking grapes in a vineyard? That all depends on you, what you hope to contribute and what experience you are seeking. For me, I’m happy to pay a higher fee/donation for an organization I believe is really making a difference for those less fortunate or who are recovering from a disaster. I will be happy to pay a fee to cover costs and make a minimal donation for something which is more to my benefit (like training elephants).

The skeptical tweeter said, “Reasonably priced to volunteer? No such thing.”  For me, that just doesn’t compute.  I expect to pay my airfare, my accommodation and food and I do expect that some of my funds will go directly to the organization.  That’s reasonable to me. I might be volunteering my time, but at the heart of the program is the fact that I am making a contribution. And when I volunteer, I want both my personal and monetary contribution to count.

As always – happy to hear your thoughts!


In the photo: Can-Do.Org I’ve mentioned this organization several times now, because this is the type of NPO which puts your donation directly to work. I respect and admire them very much for making great efforts to prove to donors that the money is directly helping the people it’s intended for.

Welcome to Tweetville

As I am developing my website, tweaking design elements and adding lots of different features, I am also expanding my efforts within the world of social media.  I’ve been inspired the last couple of weeks, particularly with Twitter.

I’ve gone through my account and actually did some housecleaning this week.  I unfollowed social media “gurus” because quite frankly, no one is a guru in this field.  We are all learning as we go and we all have a lot to learn.  I did away with people who had 50,000 followers and who follow about the same amount, because they really don’t have an interest to connect with me and won’t miss me anyway.  I did keep Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) though, because he is really good as using Twitter and everything he tweets about is appealing, entertaining, educational or really funny. Actually, he might be a guru.

One piece of advice I did take from all my research was to only follow people who share your interests.  Some dude in farmville who has a love of tractors may choose to follow you, but if you’re not interested to read posts about tractors, there should be no obligation to follow back. It certainly feels flattering when someone is interested in what you have to tweet about, but I have quickly gotten over feeling obliged to follow everyone who follows me. And in the same respect, I don’t care if the person I follow adds me to their list.  I certainly was happy to see that @MariaShriver chose to follow me, but I don’t expect that @Oprah will make me #20 on her list of people she follows.

Another important note I read was that it really doesn’t matter how many people are following you – in the sense that you don’t need a bazillion gillion followers to be considered “successful” in Tweetville.  I do feel happy when I see that more people are following me (I’ve gained over 180), but I hate to open my list of followers and see @succezstwittey who doesn’t have a clear connection between their bio and tweets, and who appears to just be “collecting” people or is perhaps even an automated account.  I also don’t care to earn money from tweeting or buy a list with 50,000 followers.  I think these things are just plain weird. Not my reason for participating.

The aspect of Twitter I have enjoyed the most is opening up communication with a few individuals.  If I have a new follower and they meet my interests, I will follow them and thank them for signing on.  If someone posts an interesting tweet, I’ll make a comment back and am pleased when they respond in kind.  For example, yesterday I noticed that @AliAdventures7 was tweeting from an airplane.  And after a brief exchange learned that Delta has in-flight wifi available for a fee of $13.  I find that pretty cool and led me to look online and find an article like THIS.  Also found THIS if a bit dated article on the race to install wifi inflight.  Good stuff to know for someone who travels as frequently as I do. What I couldn’t find was an article which rates how strong the wifisignal is from 35,000 feet!

I believe Twitter could stand to offer some features which help a user like me better organize the people I follow and the people who follow me, but this need has prompted me to investigate sites like Hootsuite and Mixero.  I’ve already got TweetDeck, but I’m not love love loving it. Do you have a preference for a desktop application like these?

If you’ve made it to this paragraph and have no idea what I’m talking about in terms of followers and why I’ve got an @ sign in front of a user name, then I encourage you to get an account on Twitter and try it out for yourself.  If you feel lazy or simply want some suggestions as to how to get started, you can just follow me and also everyone I follow.  Especially if your interests are in writing, travel, food&wine, living abroad, news, humor and inspiration. If you are interested in bobsledding, you may have to search a bit to find people who are tweeting about your hobby…but I’m sure there is someone out there!

My friend Lilli asked me recently why I am so interested in participating in Facebook, Twitter and the like,  and for me I just love connecting with new people who have similar interests or fascinating lives.  That’s also why I love to live in different parts of the world and travel. I love people!  Some of the people on my travel list have truly amazing stories and I am learning from this group of tweeters all the time.  If you do log on and you want to see what people on my travel list have to say, take the time to follow:

@traveldudes, @velvetescape, @nomadicmatt, @abigailking, @BreathDreamGo …for starters!

You might become interested in a good charitable cause from these folks:

@candoorg, @shesthefirst, @PeruvianHearts or @BakingforGood …a small sampling.

The possibilities are endless, so get online and get on Twitter!  If you are already on twitter and would like to leave me your link, please add a comment.  If you are using other forms of social media that you have really come to love, please share by adding a comment.  There so much fun stuff out there! Let’s share the goodies!

Twitter me senseless

I’m really starting to love the internet.  Oh, I’ve always liked it, but in the last couple of weeks, I’ve researched a bit some social media outlets and become more active on twitter and am acutely interested in the new Facebook “Like” features which we will see peppered through the internet shortly.

I’ve always been a pretty open person.  It started with the weekly emails I sent when I was at City Club.  I’d list the events of the week or of note and at the end, a little personal comments about what I did over the weekend or a movie review.  Once I moved to Japan, I started writing regularly.  At fist that was also a group e-mail letter.  Then I got my Mac and created newsletters.  On December 27, 2005, I started On The Bright Side blog, via blogspot (which I am now migrating here).  I loved posting regular stories, photos and even a “guess” contest.  It was a good lead-in to my current website, which you may have gathered, I really enjoy maintaining.

You can probably see I’ve made some adjustments to my home page here.  I’ve added a twitter box so you can go find and follow me on twitter.  I’ve also added a facebook button, so if you want to add me as a friend, you can do that from here too.  I’m learning what features I can add to an iWeb supported site (like a sitemap and favicon), and so I’m excited to see what features I can use to enhance the “performance” of my site.  I’m even linking OTBS with a Facebook Page so that the site will be more visible and you all can become a fan!  (ok, it’s a bit dorky and nerdy, but I’m having a blast!)

Sometimes I do worry a bit about privacy.  My post below shows you that not all happy, peppy nor bright people visit this site.  But ultimately, I don’t post anything here which I don’t want to and I monitor my site and also my privacy settings on other networking sites religiously.

I’ve also been encouraging you all to get connected to skype.  I talk to my folks nearly every weekend with skype.  It’s easy, it’s free and it’s wonderful.  If you don’t have it, you should.  As with other applications, you can manage your privacy settings so that only people you add can call or chat with you.  And you can decide to add or not someone who requests to be on your contact list.  You don’t have to talk to anyone you don’t want to!

I hope to see you tweeting away, chatting with me on skype and perhaps sharing a new application you’ve discovered.  It’s fun, it’s fascinating and it’s a great way to keep in touch.  I can’t believe how many of our high school friends have reconnected simply because of Facebook.  With me living in a place like Vietnam, it feels good to be connected to the outside world and to YOU!


Ridiculous Headlines

During a few recent and very news worthy events, I was watching CNN to try to get some solid information on a few stories.  What I saw was a screen where the reporters kept quoting twitter and facebook entries and using these notes as news.  I was not impressed. I’m sorry, folks, but that to me is lazy reporting.

In the past week or so, there have been a few news stories which I’ve bookmarked because they simply made me shake my head and think, “This is why I do not live in the U.S.”  I’m not saying that Vietnam is better or perfect or whatever, just pointing out that there are many ridiculous things which happen in the U.S., too.  Land of the free?  Sure, so long as you don’t tweet.  And God forbid you offend anyone with a nude nymph.  Since when did Americans become so easily offended?  It’s a stupid wine label!!!

While it is always good to be on alert and be aware, the whole big bad world is not out to get you and there is no danger lurking around every corner. I hate travel stories like the one on the front page of MSN the other day.  That does nothing to boost travel & tourism.

Anywhoo… just have a look at these stories and tell me what you think.  I’m sure there are many more out there to make my head keep shaking, and I am quite certain you would find plenty of head-shaking material in Vietnam.  So we are even….

Woman sued over tweet about mold

An apartment management company is seeking $50,000 in damages in one of the first libel lawsuits involving the social-networking site Twitter.

Posted by Mai Ling at MSN Real Estate on Tuesday, July 28, 2009 11:35 AM

Be careful what you tweet about.

A Chicago woman is being sued by her apartment management company, accused of writing a Twitter post that “maliciously and wrongfully” criticized her apartment and the management company.  <read more>

Wine ban in Alabama could mean big bucks for vintner

The label with a nude nymph offends the state’s liquor control board.

Posted by Elizabeth Strott on Friday, July 31, 2009 8:09 AM

A ban can mean big business. At least, that’s what Bill Leigon, president of Hahn Family Wines in Soledad, Calif., is hoping.

The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board recently told stores and restaurants to stop serving Cycles Gladiator wine because of the label, which features a naked nymph, The Associated Press reported late Thursday. <read more>


The World’s Worst Travel Scams

There’s no shortage of thieves out there, both at home and abroad, cooking up ways to get their hands on your money. Here are some of their favorite travel scams. <read more>


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